WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans plan to vigorously challenge race and curriculum diversity – using wave of parental discontent over public schools – as a key part of their strategy for the 2022 midterm elections, a coordinated effort to reinforce the message that mobilized right-leaning voters this week. in Virginia, which Democrats reject as a race.
In the wake of Tuesday’s election, in which Republican Glenn Youngkin took over as governor after joining conservative parent groups, the GOP made it clear that it sees the struggle to teach racism as a political winner. Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, chairman of the House Conservative Research Committee, released a memo proposing, “Republicans can and should be the party of parents.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy announced support for the Parents’ Bill of Rights, which opposes the teaching of “critical race theory,” the academic foundation of systemic racism that has become a universal phrase for teaching race in US history.
“Parents are unhappy with what they see as unacceptable social engineering in schools and indifferent bureaucracy,” said Phil Cox, former executive director of the Republican Governors Association.
Democrats have tried to counter this message. Some dismissed him, saying he would have little appeal outside of the GOP’s most conservative base. Others have argued that the party ignores the power of cultural and racial debate by putting itself in jeopardy.
They pointed out that Republicans used the “no police” slogan to suppress Democrats and try to alarm white suburbanites following demonstrations against police brutality and racism that began in Minneapolis after the assassination of George Floyd. Some Democrats blame the phrase – an idea that few in the party actually endorsed – for leading to losses in the House of Representatives races last year.
If the party fails to find an effective answer, it could lose its narrow majority in both houses of Congress next November.
The debate comes at a time when the racial justice movement that broke out in 2020 was reckoning with losses – the lost vote to overhaul the police in Minneapolis and a series of local elections in which voters turned their backs on candidates who fought the most against institutional racism.
“This was due to the backlash over what happened last year,” said Bernice King, daughter of the late civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., who runs the King Center in Atlanta.
King warned that trying to abandon the advancements of social justice is “not something we should sleep on.”
“We need to be constantly alert, constantly aware,” she said, “and collectively apply the necessary pressure where it needs to be applied to ensure that this nation continues to evolve.”
Banks’ memorandum contained a number of recommendations on how Republicans seek to mobilize parents in the next year, and many are open about race. He proposed banning federal funding supporting critical racial theory and focusing on legislation to ensure that schools spend money on gifted and talented and advanced employment programs “rather than blowing up administrators on diversity, equality and inclusion.”
Democrats plan to combat such efforts, noting that the primary goal of many Republicans is to remove government funding for public schools and turn it over to private and religious alternatives. They also believe that fighting over school culture war could alienate most voters, as the vast majority of the country’s children attend public schools.
“I think Republicans can and will continue to try to divide us, and they have no answers to real questions about education,” said Marshall Cohen, political director of the Democratic Governors Association. “How their plan is to cut funding for public schools and turn them over to private schools.”
White House Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre accused Republicans of “cynical attempts to use our children as political football.” But Jean-Pierre also accepted criticism from conservatives that critical racial theory teaches white children to be ashamed of their country.
“Great countries are honest, aren’t they? They have to be honest with themselves about the story, good and bad, ”she told reporters. “And our children should be proud to be American after learning this story.”
Most schools do not teach critical racial theory, which is based on the idea that racism is systemic in national institutions and that they act to maintain white dominance.
But parents organizing across the country say they see plenty of examples of schools changing the way history and gender are taught, which some equate to deeper social change they don’t support.
And concerns about what is being taught to students, especially after distance learning in the context of the coronavirus pandemic has revealed a wider range of parents participating in curricula, have raised other objections to the actions taken by schools and school boards. Including COVID safety protocols and guidelines for transgender students.
“I’m sure most people have no problem teaching history in a balanced way,” said Georgia Democratic Party member Hank Johnson. “But when you say ‘critical racial theory’ and say that it attacks us and makes our kids feel bad about themselves, that’s an appealing message. And, unfortunately for Democrats, it’s hard to defend yourself when someone blames you for it. ”
Democrats were wiped out Tuesday at a lesser-known race in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where critical race theory was the dominant theme in controversial school board meetings for much of the summer and fall.
Patrice Tisdale, a Jamaican candidate for chief district judge, said she believed the political environment was racial. She said she heard “dog whistles” from voters who called her “antifa” and accused her of wanting to refute the police. When polling the district in the final weeks of the election, one voter asked Tisdale if she believed in a critical racial theory.
“I said,“ What does this have to do with my election? “Recalls Tisdale, a lawyer who lost the race. “I run there myself to be a judge, and that was her question.”
The problem mattered in Virginia too. According to an AP VoteCast poll conducted on Tuesday, a majority of voters – 7 out of 10 – said racism is a serious problem in American society. But 44% of voters said public schools “pay too much attention” to racism in the United States, and 30% said they “pay too little attention to racism.”
The split along party lines was sharp: 78% of Yangkin’s voters considered the emphasis on racism in schools too strong, while 55% of voters in his opponent, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, said it was too little.
Youngkin strategist Jeff Rowe characterized the campaign message on education as a broad, umbrella issue that allowed the candidate to speak to different constituencies – some worried about critical race theory, others about abandoning fast-track maths, school safety, and school choice.
“It was about parenting knowledge,” he said.
McAuliffe went on the attack last week, portraying Republicans wanting to ban books. He accused Youngkin of trying to “silence” black authors during the hype over whether the themes in Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel The Beloved were too explicit. McAuliffe did lose a race of governors in a state that President Joe Biden could easily endure only last year.
Minnesota Republican Representative Tom Emmer bristled at equating the school “parenting rights” movement with race.
“The way it was decided in Virginia was frankly about parents, mothers and fathers, and we said we wanted to have our say in the education of our children,” said Emmer, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.
This has not alarmed some Democrats, who view the GOP argument as trumped-up and fleeting.
“Republicans are very good at creating problems,” Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, said calmly.
“We’ll have to do this, and then they’ll come up with something else.”
Beaumont reported from Des Moines, Iowa; Morrison from New York. Associated Press contributors Steve Peeples of Doylestown, PA, Jill Colvin of New York and Kevin Fracking, Mary Claire Jalonik and Hannah Fingerhat of Washington contributed to this report.